[Follow the Setting Sun at Pioneer Museum in Downtown Colorado Springs. Photo: David] The amount of history and culture packed into Colorado Springs might surprise even long-time residents. It’s no wonder–the area was first settled in 1871 and has grown substantially in the almost two centuries since, becoming a hub of industry that now stretches over 200 square miles.
One area that The Springs excels in are quality museums. There are over 30 in the Pikes Peak region, many dedicated to the long and colorful history of Colorado Springs. No matter what kind of interests you have, there is a museum for you to learn more about it.
If you’re tired of the sunshine hiking at Garden of the Gods or can’t stomach the drive up to Pikes Peak, check out our list of the top museums around Colorado Springs for some indoor fun for the whole family.
Here are probably the best museums in Colorado Springs, in no particular order:
1. Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
Originally built in 1903 as the town hall building for the city, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum was almost turned into a parking lot. In the 1960s most of downtown’s old buildings were slated for destruction, and it was only because of a community effort that the Pioneer Museum stands today. Founded in 1979, the museum is a testament to the love for history that Colorado Springs still retains.
The museum features an antique cage elevator built in 1917 that patrons can take a ride on to get a taste of the history of the building. There’s beautiful architecture full of marble pillars and majestic staircases that will catch just about anyone’s eyes. The changing exhibits highlight the history and culture of the Pikes Peak region, with topics covering everything from Elvira to the plight of Native American displacement.
Walk through the old courtrooms, complete with wall lanterns and murals depicting Lady Justice, where the judges are still sworn in to this day. Explore General Palmer’s private collection of rifles and guns. Learn about the history of Native Americans in the area or about the amazing artists that have come out of the Pikes Peak region.
There’s so much to do at the Pioneers Museum, you could visit it a few times and still not see everything, but don’t miss the working antique cash register in the lobby. With a free admission price and a Wild West kids zone complete with a teepee and a rocking horse, the Pioneers Museum is a particularly great attraction for families on a budget. Visit this historic landmark and keep the heritage of the Pikes Peak region alive!
2. ANA Money Museum at Colorado College
The Money Museum is home to America’s largest collections of coins, tokens, and paper money–and set against the beautiful, sprawling Colorado College campus, it’s a unique treat to visit. Founded by the American Numismatic Association, which is dedicated to educating and encouraging the public to collect and study coins, the Money Museum is a unique attraction for the whole family.
Learn about the history of money in a massive exhibit that shows the timeline of money from shells to debit cards, or wander the rare coin exhibit and find coins worth millions of dollars. Watch how money was made during the Renaissance on the Mini-Mint, a working display of coin minting.
Some exhibits change occasionally, showcasing the newest and most interesting pieces curated by the American Numismatic Association. If you can’t make it to the museum, there are virtual exhibits and a 360 virtual reality tour of the facility available on their website.
For the younger ones, there’s the Kid’s Zone, which offers activities and interactive exhibits to help kids learn about the history, culture, and the creation of the world’s money. Get your children interested in money early on!
Admission to the Money Museum is free for kids under 12 and $8 for adults. Visit an interesting and one-of-a-kind museum and learn about the money that makes the world go ‘round.
3. Pikes Peak Trolley Museum
The Pikes Peak Trolley Museum and Restoration Shop is yet another local historic treasure. The building was originally a massive storehouse and workshop for train cars coming off the Rock Island Line, which led to Colorado Springs’ transformation into the hub of industry it is now. Today, the building is down to two stalls, but the spirit of transportation history is still alive and thriving at this museum.
The museum is now home to trolleys and train cars alike–some under restoration. Witness the beautiful 1919 bright yellow Birney Car trolley, which originally ran in Fort Collins and was the last car of its kind in operation in North America. Tour the full-wood interior or watch the restoration at work.
Others are on display for walking tours, like the charming trolley car that was abandoned, then turned into a house in the early 1900s. Explore how it felt to live in the trolley car, complete with a reconstruction of that trolley house. Guests can ride in the luxurious 1947 PCC trolley down a short line and back and feel the power of the world’s first electric car. It was faster than a city bus, and with no greenhouse gas emissions either!
The love of history is palpable at the Pikes Peak Trolley Museum, which is located right next to the train tracks. Often your tour guides will point out the trains that pass by and tell you more about them. Everyone at the Trolley Museum is a volunteer, and you can feel their passion for transportation on every tour.
Admission for adults is only $5 and kids get in for just $3. You don’t want to miss this cultural attraction in Colorado Springs, perfect for transportation enthusiasts and amateurs alike!
4. National Museum of World War II Aviation
The National Museum of World War II Aviation is a huge facility dedicated to educating and bringing to life the history of World World 2. Set just outside of the Colorado Springs Airport, the museum was founded by a group of visionaries who sought to build a one-of-a-kind museum that showcasesd the importance of America’s aviation history.
The museum was built here because of its strong ties to aviation and aerial history, as The Springs is home to the Air Force Academy. Working with WestPac Restoration, an airplane restoration company, the museum restores and displays these antique pieces of military history in as close to their original forms as possible.
Most of the planes are in working condition, allowing visitors to appreciate these beautiful antiques in their original forms. The tour includes a visit to the WestPac Restoration Facility, where the planes go from burned-out shells to their beautiful former glory.
Not only do the airplanes shine, but the museum takes special care to respect and appreciate the sacrifices made in the name of victory. Veterans have volunteered for many positions at the facility over the years. If you’re a fan of aviation or military history, the Nation Museum of World War II Aviation is an attraction that you’ll want to visit. It’s an authentic piece of military history!
Admission is $14 for adults and $10 for children under 12. The museum is open only on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so ensure you plan your timing well.
5. Penrose Heritage Museum
This museum is yet another tribute to the transportation history of The Springs, located just steps from the majestic Broadmoor Hotel. It contains the personal artifact collection of Spencer and Julia Penrose, philanthropists whose work led to the creation of the Pikes Peak Highway, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the Broadmoor Hotel, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, all institutions now in the Springs.
The Penrose Heritage Museum houses over 30 carriages, most with written histories of their usage displayed along with them. There are also a ton of Western cultural artifacts, such as saddles and Native American antiques, along with cars from the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the Race to the Clouds, one of the oldest motorsport events in America.
Be sure to sit down and watch the movie about the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, a dangerous race up to the top of Pikes Peak. There’s even a reenactment of a historic crash (don’t worry, everyone walked away)–a sure hit for history buffs.
Whether you’re interested in the cars, the carriages, or the artifacts, there’s no better place to learn about the history of Colorado Springs than at the Penrose Heritage Museum. Best of all, admission is free for the whole family. Take at least an hour to look at this museum overflowing with history!
Discover Even More at Colorado Springs’ Other Museums
Colorado Springs may have changed a lot over the last century and a half, but that history is kept alive in the amazing museums that dot the region. Don’t just visit the obvious attractions on your next trip to Colorado Springs. Go somewhere new and interesting, where you can enhance your knowledge and feel a little bit closer to history.
There are dozens of others museums to explore within the Pikes Peak Region. Colorado Springs is home to the Western Museum of Mining & Industry, which showcases more than 4,000 artifacts over 27 acres. The Springs is also host to two Hall of Fames: the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame & Museum and the ProRodeo Hall Of Fame & Museum.
And lastly, another cool local museum is the Fine Arts Museum at Colorado College. I was going to write about it more in-depth, but the lady working at the entrance was very rude to me, so I’ll just leave you with a maybe check it out if there’s time. A quote from the lady employee at the Fine Arts Museum:
I’m sure other museums are very lax but we have very high standards here.